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Opinion

Back on its feet and how

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Selling the Philippines here and abroad is not an easy job, especially during this post-pandemic period when millions of people perished due to the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) contagion. But Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat pulled no mean feat when she put together and completed the 21st Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) held in our country last week. At the closing ceremony of the WTTC last Friday, Romulo-Puyat gushed with pride from the accolades the Philippines received from the leaders of the global tourism industries.

Julia Simpson, president and chief executive officer of the WTTC hailed the country’s hosting of the three-day summit. Simpson expressed her profound admiration how the Philippines delivered a successful outcome of the WTTC. “I’m not often stumped for words, but I am now. Wow! What an amazing summit. We really have rediscovered travel,” Simpson enthused at the end of the gathering of leaders of the tourism industries across the world.

Of course, Romulo-Puyat could not agree more. Our DOT Secretary thanked the WTTC for having given the Philippines the opportunity to showcase “how beautiful the country is.” The Philippines, she cited, is now a top-of-mind destination for delegates, many of whom had decided to stay to savor the rest of the country where “we are setting an example of how to open safely.”

The holding of the WTTC Global Summit was the first-ever international gathering held in Manila after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a touch-and-go before the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) finally relented to hold the WTTC Global Summit. Getting the nod of no less than President Rodrigo Duterte was the biggest challenge for the DOT Secretary. When the pandemic first struck a little over two years ago, President Duterte imposed lockdowns all over the Philippines and many other COVID-impacted countries similarly closed down their respective borders.

As the pandemic forced the global tourism industry to raise its game and change the way it gets things done, the Tourism Secretary recalled how the Philippine government gradually reopened its doors. With protecting lives of the people as topmost priority, she stressed, anti-COVID protocols have become part and parcel of traveling to and around the Philippines. “We have likewise put much effort into discerning the most effective combination between the enforcement of health and safety guidelines and personal convenience – the delicate balancing act of implementing measures to ensure everyone’s safety without placing unreasonable burdens on the traveling public.”

According to an initial report by the DOT, a total of 1,289 delegates, 600 of whom were international representatives from more than 50 countries participated in the WTTC. But there were over 10,000 virtual registrations during the various events of the WTTC held at the Marriot Hotel in Pasay City. About 200 media delegates from 160 international networks covered these events from April 20-22.

The WTTC delegates were treated to a bonus event last Saturday to an “investment tour” of the New Clark City as hosted by the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA). They were toured to the newly renovated Clark International Airport Terminal and briefed about investments offerings by the Clark Development Corp. (CDC) and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), all under the BCDA flagship.

The WTTC delegates who included 30 government officials representing their countries were briefed on the master plan of the “green developments” drawn up by the BCDA in partnerships with the Asian Development Bank and the United Kingdom government. Among the offered investment packages are Private-Public Partnership (PPP) arrangements in terms of business developments at the New Clark City within the Clark and Subic Free Port Zones.

The pitch for investments was an added touch put on by the DOT Secretary who, after all, is one of the members of the economic team of President Duterte. While she does the in-country pitch for potential investors, the rest of the economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III flew last week to the United States for PPP investments roadshow promotions. The Duterte economic team along with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea first proceeded to Washington to attend the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank (IMF-WB). They were joined by Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno.

Speaking of the BSP Governor, world-renowned TV travel program Richard Quest who also dabbles as news anchor of the CNN International and editor-at-large of the CNN Business got a road-side interview with Diokno in Washington. In his “Quest Means Business” program at the CNN, the British journalist engaged Diokno in a very brief live interview right across the IMF building at D.C. last Friday afternoon.

Citing “crisis over crisis on top of a crisis” as alarming the international economic leaders, Quest asked how the Philippines is “negotiating” with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine-Russia war, and consequent global energy crisis, Diokno riposted: “No. The Philippines is actually on its way to a full recovery. From the recession in 2020, it bounced back.” From recession in 2020, Diokno recalled, the Philippine economy grew to 5.7% last year and is looking at a growth rate at 7.9% this year.

On the COVID-19 pandemic resurgence taking place in China where lockdowns have been re-imposed in Shanghai, Quest queried how the Philippines – among the Asia-Pacific region countries – is “navigating” potential spill over effect. “The lockdown is history,” Diokno retorted.

On that same day in Manila, Simpson declared at the WTTC summit that the Philippines “is well on its feet,” and how. Calling it as a testament to the tourism industries around the world, the WTTC summit placed the Philippines as the go-to-destination for a COVID-safe travel.

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